Postscript — Six Years

As I worked through my day, a few more thoughts occurred to me. Perhaps they are worth sharing, so here goes.

The Girl and I walked more than five miles today. We had a long walk this morning down by the Carson River, which remains a favorite place. We greeted doggie-friends along the way. She had plenty of opportunities to sniff, pee, and explore her usual haunts.

On the route back to the rig, she split off on one of our favorite alternate paths, which takes us right down to the river but off the main trail. I particularly like this place and often walk this side path. But today I was ready to get home so I stayed on the trail.

She trotted our a couple-dozen yards, then turned to look at me. I know that look… “This way!” she says. But I stayed on the path, so she came running over to me, “encouraging” me to go the other way. So I played the this-way, that-way game for a bit, pretending to walk first one direction, then another.

She played, first leading me one way and then the other. After a few iterations she ran a large-circle zoomie and returned to my side, at least for a moment. Then we were back down the trail toward the staging area and the rig.

I laughed with her and played a little of the grab-ass game, with me grabbing either a little ass or a little tail. Either works and causes a big laugh from both of us. Dogs are such physical creatures and I love that about them.

I picked up a print job and a sandwich on the way home. The Girl was a little tired, but not too tired to pass the chance to beg a little of my sandwich, which I happily shared.

After lunch we had a nice nap. One of the things I love about my life is that ability to take a break and sleep for a few minutes in the afternoon. That time spent with The Girl is another small thing that gives me some joy.

We walked again in the evening, over that the old orphanage. It was a beautiful winter afternoon, with a few clouds, some sun, not much wind, and 55F. I noticed Squirrel’s memorial as we passed and thought about all the things I wrote earlier in the day. I spent some time praying as I walked and remembered Wife’s life as well.

These thoughts passed as the sun fell behind the Sierra Nevada and we returned to the rig. I elected to treat myself to supper and drove out to Applebee’s. I have not had a steak in a long time and wanted one. So, that’s what I did. The Girl worked for me and spent her time under my table, as good as always.

So, now we are home again. I ate all the steak, so I got out a Greenie after we got home, made her work for it, and then treated her. She earned it. And now she is sleeping under the table next to me.

As I sat in the restaurant, I recalled Becky’s comment and how I went to a grief group a couple of times. The hospice sent me a couple of invites after Wife died. I resisted at first, but then decided “what the hell” and went.

The first meeting was very small. There was a couple of women, another man, and me. The group leader went through her materials. We talked a little about our grief. Then the leader offered a few things and we broke up.

The second meeting was different. There were a lot more women, maybe ten or twelve. Then there was that other man and me. The dynamic was different, although I would be pressed to describe why and how. It was just different. I then realized practically something I knew intellectually — men and women process their grief differently. I realized that the other man (a bit older than me) was stuck. He was not going to move through his grief until he either learned to let go or got professional help. The women were not going to be much help to me.

When the meeting broke, I walked out of the hospice center where it was held. My back was straight and turned to the exercise and I knew I would not return. It was not right for me. I was doing what I needed to do to process my grief and the group was not going to help me with that.

And so it was. I did not go back. I read my books for advice. I did the work. I knew that no one else would be able to do that work for me. It was mine and mine alone to do. So, that is what I did.

Becky’s friends who recently lost loved ones have a hard path to walk. I do not envy them that path, but I know that can traverse what is before them, do the work, and be healed. Their loss will suck, it will continue to suck, it will always suck, but the suck will decrease with time and work (hat tip to Jim for that one). They will be stronger for doing the work. I pray that they can.

In reflecting on my day I realize how blessed and thankful I am. I have more than I need and about all that I want. My dog and I spend a lot to time together. I have enough work to pay my bills and then some. The work keeps me intellectually engaged. The dog keeps me emotionally and spiritually engaged. I am blessed. I am grateful.

Squirrel — And Six Years

The best little dog ever…

It does not appear that I wrote about the scene above. I looked in my archive, because I thought I wrote about the sad story of Squirrel, but found nothing. Perhaps that is because I talked to Older Son about what happened quite a lot and I am confusing conversation with writing. Therefore, if the story is familiar to you please feel free to pass this story.

Late last year, The Girl and I were walking our circuit(s) around the old state orphanage one evening. I noticed a marker, a pot with some dianthus in it, and a paper fluttering in the evening breeze. I am the curious sort (not nosey, I promise), so I stopped to read.

What I read caused my heart to sink. It was the heart-wrenching story of another park visitor whose little dog was attacked and killed by a pair of larger dogs at this spot. Two “pet bulls” charged Squirrel, grabbed him, and tore him between them before they were called off by their handlers. “They must have thought he was a toy,” was what they were reported to say before they hurried away.

So, this man stayed with his little dog as the life left him, shocked and dismayed. I do not know this man, although we interacted a few times over the last couple of years. He is one of the afternoon visitors to the little park, where several others bring their dogs each day. He had three dogs, as I recall, and they would follow and play as he walked the circuit as part of their daily routine.

Later he returned with the marker to celebrate his little dog and remember what happened at that spot. I came across the marker only a few days after Squirrel died. Since that time, I have been quite watchful for the two white “pet bulls” and their “heavy” handlers. I have not seen them.

I spoke to one of the DPS troopers (Capitol Police Unit) who patrol the area every day. He was aware of what happened and asked if I had seen the dogs and their handlers. So, the authorities are aware of a couple of aggressive dogs who attacked and killed another.

I reflect on this almost every time I walk past the memorial. Since November, it has been enhanced and made relatively permanent. The groundskeepers seem to leave it alone. Passersby added some stones and other things to the site. I will probably bring a rock from somewhere and leave it as a token of respect for this man’s loss. I can imagine his grief at the violent loss of his beloved little dog. It saddens me to think of it.

And I know grief. One cannot live six decades and not experience a variety of loss. My grandparents are all gone. My parents are gone. My sisters are gone. I am the last of my generation’s nuclear family. I have a brother-in-law and an uncle still alive, and of course, my children and grandchildren.

But the most difficult loss was Wife. She died six-years ago, today. That loss, and the grieving that followed, was crushing. Losing my parents and my sisters was hard, but those losses paled in comparison to the loss of Wife. I recall the sound that emanated from me the moment she died. My sons heard it. I still have difficulty believing that I made that sound.

Like the moment of Wife’s passing, that sound did not last long. It marked my passage from caregiver to widow. And then… the grief-work began.

I learned to enter into my grief, not to let it possess me, but to fully experience it, to work it because that is the only way to get through it. Grief cannot be put away or buried. It must be lived in order to be healed. I did that work and it was not easy. It was a way to honor Wife’s life and the relationship that we shared for all those years.

It took me nearly two years to work through my grief. The first year was absolute hell. The second had moments of clarity and moments of darkness. But, near the end of the second year, life began to be interesting again.

The holidays remain difficult because of Wife’s love of them. They always bring memories of her joy in that season. I know I am not alone in that perception of a mix of joy for the season and sadness at my loss. I am alright with that and accept it as part of the gift that came with spending most of my life with her. Then, today is difficult as well, marking the anniversary of her death. But it does not hurt like it did five- and six-years ago.

I will grieve a little today as I remember Wife’s life and our life together. It is a good thing to do, so long as I do not let that affect me negatively. But, I am healed of my grief. I did that work and it was a good work. It celebrated and honored Wife and our communal life as a family. I think these are honorable actions.

And, I am reminded of another old man who lost his little dog, whom he loved. Maybe those dogs are his only family. Maybe he spends all of his time with those dogs and has little human contact. It would not be the first time such a thing occurred. In any event, I understand and relate. I nod at the memorial in salute every time I pass it, thinking about my own relationship with The Girl and often of Wife’s life and that relationship.

And today I celebrate and remember Wife, who died six-years ago today. I will grieve a little, but only a little. Wife would chastise me for dwelling on the negative. She would be right.

Christmas Eve 2018

After almost three days, The Girl is improving. We walked in the rain, so she was snugs on her mat on the sofa with a little extra cover.

It is the Eve of Christmas, the evening when the events occurred so critical to Christendom. At least, it is the eve on which we celebrate them. As I have mentioned so many times before, the date is not really important; the remembrance and celebration is.

I have been Christian most of my life. At first it was familial — mom and dad were professed Christians, so I went to church and learned about the faith too. As I grew and learned to be independent, my faith became a decision. I chose to trust Christ for my reconciliation to God and to live my life accordingly, not that the living earned my salvation but that it was an honor to God’s gift to live in a manner worthy of the faith.

Many times here my words convey something of that faith. It is a part of me and so it is reflected in this space. It does not matter to me whether that is OK or not with the occasional reader who drops by via whatever search engine brought them. The people who know me understand that it is just part of who I am and they accept it. It is not my business to make them believe like I do anymore than it is there business to make me believe as they do. It is an individual choice. I can respect that and expect nothing less.

So tonight is important to me. I will take a few minutes and spend them reflecting on what transpired all those centuries ago. I will think on how that event was a working out of the prophecies from generations before that. And I will be thankful for that gift of grace.

It does not matter that I am alone with The Girl. The celebration of the Christ-child’s birth will happen anyway. We will spend some time together and I will pray in thanks for the gift. I will pray a little for my children, my family, and my friends (regardless of what they believe, the prayers are still good). It is a good thing.

After a ragged few days, The Girl is improving. Her depth perception is still off and she lists to port. Her coordination is improving and I no longer see the vibration in her eyes. And oh how I love those eyes, the honesty and life presented there sometimes astonishes me. Our shared time together is a gift and I am quite thankful for it.

I continue to pray that she will improve. We went out to walk today and it rained. She does not like being wet. Snow is OK, but rain is something she does not care for. As the rain fell and grew a little more insistent, she looked over her shoulder at me, shaking it off (and nearly falling over). She then trotted ahead (an improvement) urging me on.

Finally she had a mini-zoomie, running about being silly in her unique way, falling when she lost her balance and skidding on the wet grass. It was adorable and encouraging and I wept a little for the joy of it and in it. She is really a wonderful creature, full of life and unwilling to let her illness get the better of her.

Eventually, she led be back to rig, ready to return to her nice, warm home. I keep a couple of towels in the rig for the eventuality that a drying-off will be needed, so I toweled her down, rubbing her chest, back, and tummy to get the bulk of the water off. She enjoys the toweling and attention and so do I.

She reminds me of her mom in how that woman refused to let the lymphoma dominate her spirit and her attitude. The courage and perseverance of that woman will be with me forever. So will the spirit of this dog who lives with me and refuses to let her setback change her love of life.

Tonight I celebrate the birth and life of The Christ. I remember the life and love of Wife. I enjoy the companionship of The Girl. Merry Christmas, all, Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.

Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

The Girl is not feeling well. I hope this is not something serious.
The Christmas season is difficult for me. About this time six-years ago, Wife knew that she had residual disease and we were making a daily trek to-and-from Truckee, California for radiotherapy treatments. I could tell that she was winding down, as I put it. We would learn in short course that the cancer had crossed the blood-brain barrier.

One evening as we sat together watching television, she said to me “I’m afraid this will be my last Christmas.” This absolutely broke my heart because I feared it was true. It was an articulation of the thought that had been running around in my head for some time.

We celebrated Christmas nonetheless and did our best to enjoy the time together as a family. But is was a deeply poignant Christmas and one that remains indelibly imprinted within me.

Christmas passed, the treatments continued for awhile, but ultimately they sent Wife home to spend her remaining time and energy on her family. We spent the time together as she worsened and eventually succumbed to her illness.

I continue to struggle every Christmas to hold onto the hope that the birth of the Christ child represents. That hope and joy is tempered with the recollection of the last bit of time spent with Wife before she died and left us. It remains a struggle.

Friday I was working at my table and took a business call. About 1500h, The Girl stood and fell over. She was agitated and confused. I called her to me and reached out for her. She shuffled back and forth, unbalanced. Her eyes shifted rapidly left-right. I started checking her, wondering what-the-hell just happened, fearing a stroke.

My caller broke the connection, saying “you better deal with this.” I immediately called the vet, carried The Girl to the rig, and left.

Our regular vet shuffled us into his schedule. His wonderful assistant checked The Girl and took some information. Dr. Ross came in, examined my love, and told me that this is most likely something called ODV for “Old Dog Vestibular Disease.” (It is really Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, a neurological disorder of unknown cause.) He said it is an 80-percent probability. He also said “you do not want to know about the other 20-percent.”

I looked at him. This is not my first rodeo and I know what that means. If it is IVD, then it should resolve in a few days (he said four or five; the Internet says 72 hours). All sources say to give it time. If it is IDV, then a residual head-tilt might be permanent.

I would be lying if I said that I have not wept a great deal the last 24 hours. The rawness of Wife’s death does not go away. My friend Jim told me that it never will; that you just learn to live with it. Truth… I am not ready to say goodbye to The Girl. I am praying that it is IDV and that we have at least a couple more years together.

I made some scrambled eggs for myself for breakfast, late. I added an extra egg, think she might eat that after she turned up her nose at her normal fare. I was right — she ate the eggs when I hand-fed her. Doc said I might have to hand feed her for a couple of days.

I have to be careful she does not fall and break a bone. The bed is off-limits unless I am in it with her. She moved last night and I spooked and grabbed her. We went out once and then snuggled back in for the rest of the night.

After breakfast I decided to get her out for an outing. I had a couple of errands to run and wanted to offer her a walk. We drove over to one of our favorite parks. I got her out and leashed her (which I rarely do). If there is a neurological problem, then I figure that one of the best ways of restoring the circuitry is to get her exercising the pathways. There is no reason to keep her down if she is willing and able to move.

So, I followed her stumble-drunk gait around the park for a half an hour. She sniffed plenty, peed a couple of times, and acted more-or-less like herself sans her usual athleticism. She seemed pleased that we had been out.

Now she is snoozing on her mat on the sofa. I am not worried she will hurt herself getting up and down from that low piece of furniture. She does not seem to be in pain, but is uncomfortable that her vision and balance are not right. She retains that sweet personality and loving spirit.

I am so reminded of how I could tell that Wife was trapped in her failing body. The disease took her ability to move and her ability to talk. But I could see her in her eyes. I see the same thing in The Girl, her love showing through even when she is less able to demonstrate it through our physical playtimes together. I continue to pray that the vet is right and that it is just IVD.

In the end, I find myself back in that struggle to not be the bitter, cynical old man who lost his Wife around Christmastime and loses the greater significance of the celebration. I want to remember the celebration of the Christ-child’s birth and what that means to all of us.

But, to be honest, this is hard. It is difficult to remain positive. But then I am reminded no one ever promised it would be easy.

A Breath

On evening walkies, Older Son, The Girl, and I paused for a moment as the sun illuminated the clouds.

There are many ways to interpret the title of this entry. There are many stories to tell as well. The image is a capture from this evening’s walkies, up at the old state school where orphans used to live.

A couple of consulting projects buried me for the last couple of months. One of them is finished. The second has its report in review and will be finished next week. A third is ramping up and there will be a push to get it done over the next couple of weeks. It will get done.

I am not complaining; I appreciate the work and there should be enough money to pay my bills for the remainder of the year. I expect the workload will abate and I will have time to go back to my training regimen and be able to spend time reading and making photographs.

So, this week I had a chance to take a breath. I took some time off and took that breath. The break was a respite I desperately needed as the push to get the work done was taking a toll on my inner and outer health. The breath was good.

Five years ago today Wife died. That left a hole in my life that has not been filled. The pain of grief is mostly abated — it still arises now and again and there is a ghost of it in me that I think will never go away. But I am OK with that. That small pain is a reminder of a life together, with all of the good times and all of the warts. It is part of what shaped me.

I recall her last breath vividly. The vigil that preceded her passing was a ramp up of intensity that culminated the moment she left. The gulf that followed was a second intensely emotional period that abated slowly over the next couple of years.

Therefore, today I recall a breath… the few days I took to recover and regroup and the last breath of Wife. Life is breath and each one is precious.

Spiney

I’m glad the Girl didn’t get into these!

There’s an old Wife story about “spiney.” I think we were visiting with my dad one afternoon, probably a Sunday afternoon because I recall there being ham and beans in the large pot simmering on the range. That means the weather was cool and there was probably football to watch, back in the days when I watched professional sports. (I loved watching football games with dad.)

Wife remarked something about my few-day-old stubble and couldn’t think of an appropriate descriptor. Somehow or another, she managed to say something about me being “spiney,” and it came out unintentionally.

Of course, dad picked it up and ran with it, much to the embarrassment of Wife. That was another great laugh and a great Wife story.

We were hiking on the Riverview Park trails a week or so ago and came across a patch of cockleburs. When I saw them, several thoughts ran through my mind in quick succession.

“Boy, I’m glad that the Girl didn’t get into those! Even with her short fur, she’d be an unhappy Girl when I had to pull them from fur, ears, and feet.”

“Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t get into those. They’d be a bitch to get out of my socks!”

“I sure got into a lot of those back in Missouri, particularly when squirrel hunting in the fall. They were a bitch to get out of my clothes and are spiney as hell!”

“Those might make an interesting photograph. I’d better make one.”

At that, I pulled up the Panasonic Lumix G3 and got to work. I happened to have the Wollensak 25mm f/1.9 cine lens on the camera. It has an interesting, if a bit busy, bokeh.

Happy Birthday, Wife

Although I was very distracted by project work today, I had time to think about Wife and remember her birthday. She would have been 65-years old today and we would have had a grand time celebrating the day. I would have given her quite a hard time about “robbing the cradle” as well.

I miss you, old girl. I wish you hadn’t died.

Sick Girl

The Girl was quite sick for a few days. At least she is home and recovering.

The Girl is home now and recovering. She had a rough couple of days, which required spending some time in hospital.

I noticed last Thursday that she seemed off. She didn’t eat her breakfast, which is not completely unusual, but relative rare. Then while I was in a meeting, she vomited some grass she had eaten. Again, that was not completely unusual, if relatively rare. (She is a grazer and usually just passes the grass.)

Friday she again acted oddly, not wanting her breakfast although we had a nice walk. I noticed that she didn’t seem interested in food or water as well. I worried over her much of the night and she asked to go out several times.

Saturday morning she seemed lethargic and uninterested in much. When offered a walk, we went part way (just a hundred yards or so) before she expelled a very watery stool. She refused water when I offered it, licking a little from my fingers but refusing to drink.

I called the vet and took her in to the urgent care clinic. He checked her over, found nothing obvious, and recommended supportive care and some testing.

I left her in his care. When he called later in the day, he reported that she had an ileus with a lot of inflammation and bloating. He would continue supportive care, hoping the hydration would reduce the inflammation and restore some of the function of her gastrointestinal tract. I could tell he was really concerned for her.

Sunday he called with news that there was some improvement, but that she was still not eating, lethargic, and not interested in water (of course not, with the hydration). That evening I called and he reported that she had eaten a little, the inflammation was down quite a lot, and there was no physical blockage.

Monday she was much improved, eating a little and happy. By the afternoon he indicated that supportive care was no longer needed and that she should come home. That made me very happy. So I retrieved the Girl and brought her home.

But I learned she was still very sick. I coaxed her into drinking water by adding a little juice from a can of chicken to it. I also convinced her to eat a little by adding some canned food to her kibbles (or rather, some kibbles to canned food) and adding a little chicken juice to that). She slept the rest of the day and much of Tuesday.

But Tuesday evening she asked for food and I noticed that she had taken water from her bowl. So I fed her (sweetening the kibbles again) and refilled her water bowl. Tuesday night she wanted to sleep with me again. But OMG was she noxious! Whatever was disturbing her system made some very nasty gas!

And then this morning she acted much better. She again asked for food and to go out. After I fed myself, she asked to go walk. So I took her out to Riverview Park for a walk. The park is still in rough condition, but it’s walkable. There is less risk of her picking up some toxin out there, at least in my opinion.

I think there is a good chance she picked up a toxin while we walked here in town. Perhaps one of the lawns was treated with pesticide or herbicide. Perhaps another animal was sick. But my suspicion is that she picked up something on our walks. Therefore, I’m going to be more careful with where we go and what she nibbles on.

A Rough Couple of Weeks

View from the waiting area outside the Carson Valley Vet Hospital.

It was a rough couple of weeks for the Girl (and of course for me was well). She healed quickly after her surgery. Yes, the mass was a soft tissue sarcoma, but it was low grade and the margins were clear. She has a 15-percent chance of recurrence. I’ll take it.

I made the image on the day we returned so her sutures could be removed. I can do it, but the clinic gets pissy about it if I do. [Heh…] Her wounds were healing nicely and we were released to normal activity again.

However, that afternoon she seemed sick. Her symptoms were coughing and gagging and she ate more grass than usual. I was concerned.

She was not better the next day, refused to go walk, didn’t want any food, and seemed really off. So I called the vet and we returned for the urgent-care clinic that evening (at 1600h).

The vet found nothing obviously wrong and gave me a plethora of diagnosis/treatment options. I elected to go with some supportive care, left the Girl there, and returned to pick her up later in the evening.

She seemed better that Friday (a week ago), so I thought we had passed the worst of it. However, over the weekend I noticed she still wasn’t acting normal. Something was just off.

I struggled with the decision to return to the vet for another visit. It was partly cost and partly the uncertainty that anything definitive would be determined. I hate spending money on medical care with a null outcome. (I have a long history of spending money on medical care with no outcome.) So I thought I’d wait until the weekend passed and see if her condition changed.

Monday came and she refused to walk again. We walked to the mailbox and back, then I drove us up to the old orphanage and we walked the site. She was not feeling well. She kept me up most of the night wanting to go out and just feeling miserable. But, early in the morning she vomited up a bone shard (that I had not seen her eat) about the size of a half-dollar coin.

I thought that might be the problem. So I decided to wait until after the 4th of July holiday to see if another vet call was required.

By Wednesday she was her usual self once again — pestering me to go walkies, asking for play, asking for treats, eating normally, and generally being the pain-in-the-ass that I love.

Her wounds are mostly healed. The rough patches of scar tissue receded. Her fur is growing back (what little of it there is), albeit slowly. She is back to telling me what I want, once again, like most of the women in my life.

It was a rough few weeks. It was horribly expensive, in terms of money, time, and energy. But my constant companion is healthy and happy again. Life is good.

NDEP

The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, NDEP, is housed in this building. We walk past it many days.

On many mornings, we walk past the building that houses Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, among others. The structure is rather striking from the old state school property, where we meet other doggies and chase ground squirrels.

On our way home, particularly on warm days, The Girl puts on quite a show on the grass landscaping outside the building. Our antics brighten a lot of mornings for folks outside for a walk or a smoke. I hear them chuckle and see them smile at our interaction and her crazy love of the cool grass and shade.

This is a good thing. I like this part of the route quite a lot.